Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Using Social Media As a Tool in E-learning: The Challenges and Potential

There is no denying that the rise of social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat...etc has created a level of engagement among people globally.



 When we consider that level of engagement from a business perspective, we wish that our own business culture could boast such percentages. The even greater dilemma dealing with social media focuses on the following questions that every business organization needs to confront and solve which are:

  1. How do I ensure that our business organization is not losing important hours of productivity as a result of employees using company time to be on social media?

To respond to such a question, one needs to ask is this really a widespread problem or is it a problem at all? Looking at how employers deal with employee access and their reasons for their approach shows their concerns with social media. A survey was performed by Robert Half Technology of 1400 chief information officers from companies across the United States to find out their policy on visiting social media sites. The results were that:

  • 54% do not allow employees to access social media sites under any circumstance at work.
  • 19% allow limited access and then only for strictly business purposes only.
  • 16% allow limited access for personal use.
  • 10% allow for unlimited and unrestricted access for personal use.

Business organizations have various reasons for blocking social media sites. It is interesting to note the prime reason in the following list:

  1. Loss of productivity.
  2. Potential exposure of computers and business networks to spyware, malware and viruses.
  3. Greater chance for corporate information that is strictly proprietary to be leaked.
  4. Potential legal liability for the company as a result of employees accessing certain social media sites that have poor security measures.
The elephant in the room underlying the above rationales is the question:

"Do employees feel that they are stakeholders in the health and the future of the business organization or do they feel that they are merely paid pawns in an enterprise that they have no credible input into?"

   2. When are employees most likely to access social media sites and which ones in particular?


What is interesting in the statistics shown is the fact that employees will access social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter,...etc intermittently throughout the day (40.0%) as well as during lunch (41.4%).

3. Given that 54% of the companies surveyed blocked social media sites completely, should the rest     follow this lead?

Simply put the answer should be "no". Why? Such a response creates a whole host of problems which impacts a relationship with employees when we want them to engage with the vision and mission of the company. One of the great characteristics of the new generation of employees is their ability to be creative. In the 21st century, we need employees who are creative, collaborative and actively engaged as innovative solution creators.

"It is far better to have employees use their creativity to further our business case than to have them use their creativity to subvert, in a covert fashion, policies they find out of date with the truly connected lives that they lead outside the work place."

4. Does granting access to social media sites impact employee productivity?

The answer to this is both yes and no. This may sound like we are hedging our bets but anyone who has used social media for a length of time will tell you that it can be a very healthy place to connect as part of a personal online community but it can also be a "cesspool" which harbours unhealthy and potentially dangerous attitudes which can impact a company.

Employees have even made a case that use of social media sites actually improves their productivity.


One area of increased improvement is that it exposes employees to the effective use of web 2.0 tools that can be applied to tasks in the workplace.


This brings us back to a very important question in regards to the idea of engagement which is:

"How can a business organization harness the engagement that social media offers to business tasks and still not lose productivity time?"

Using e-Learning and Social Media: Time to Get Creative!

One key term that should have hit you in the above was the word "community". Despite the fact that we constantly say that employees live very connected lives, there is something that we once had that has become very elusive in the 21st century and that is belonging to a community. In the drive to adapt to and advance the use of technology, the idea of being part of a stable, reliable community has been fractured. Use of social media is the closest that some people get to being "part of a community". You will also note that when people feel that they are part of a community, they are far more engaged over time.

The goal for business organizations is to transform their organizations so that employees feel that they are part of a community that welcomes their input and ideas as bona fide stakeholders. This has been attempted in the past and has resulted in success. The airline company, Westjet, is such a success story. The benefits of engaged employees as part of a community has been well researched and stated.

Keeping such statistics in mind, how can we create high levels of engagement by harnessing e-Learning and social media?

The drive and energy that employees devote to personal learning both for the advancement of their job skillsets and to interpret their world is a personal part of their lives. The only other people who would care about how they are learning are people who are close to them and part of a personal community. It is within this context that a business organization can empower employees to become stakeholders in the business community and the use of e-Learning as a means of creating that personally meaningful community is one tool to make it happen.

From a skeptic's point of view, why would a business organization want to do this? One reason is to close the digital skills gap that exists within business organizations. This means re-visiting and re-evaluating priorities now taking into account that the world has changed and that the digital skills of all employees either advance the interests of a business organization in a globally connected collaborative, digital business world or results in a constant loss of market share akin to the types of processes that such companies such as Kodak and today,  the Sears organization have experienced.


First Steps in Harnessing Social Media to Company Interests

  1. Recognize the value and potential of using social media: Since employees are tightly involved in social media outside the business organization, it becomes important to train or mentor employees in how social media could be used to help transform the community that they are part of each day. Both Twitter & Facebook have specialized groups that focus on many areas of the business world. Collecting these sites and making them focused links on the company's working organizational network accessible to employees 24/7 helps put into place one of the elements of a new and more vibrant community. Such sites will be accessible to employees regardless of the tool that they use thanks to the use of HTML 5.0 as a foundation for design. A site such as LinkedIn would also be an important site because of the many forums available for learning across many dimensions of business knowledge.
  2. Creating dynamic learning profiles: If learning is a personal element in the lives of employees then those who enable growth of skillsets within learners are considered valuable members of that transformed community. This requires a re-visioning of the roles of HR, Instructional Designer and even the CLO of a business organization so that they are in tune with nurturing the growth of intellectual capital found in the persons who are employees. If information in the 21st century is the new currency, then learning is the key to creating digital capital in this new age.
Next---Part II will plot out the paths to this needed transformation. Please feel free to  share this post on e-Learning Industry forums on LinkedIn.